‘Breast is best’ for baby and mum; fostering emotional bonding, giving protection for the baby against infections, reducing risk of post-natal depression and even lowering the risk of certain cancers for the mother. Breast milk pro-vides the basis of a beneficial gut flora for the infant that bestows a resilient immune system and reduces the likelihood of allergies. Once breastfeeding is established and running smoothly it is a wonderfully nurturing, reward-ing experience.
Many mothers-to-be look forward to breast-feeding their baby, but for some, the process is not easy. Herbal medicines offer support in a variety of ways, many with a long history of safe use during breastfeeding, providing bene-fits for both mother and baby. This month we’ll look at herbs that can be used to make breast-feeding an easier process for mums; next month we’ll cover how to help baby, through mother’s milk, and beyond.
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that causes pain, redness and swelling of the breast. There may be an accompanying fever and body aches. It can occur as a result of a blocked milk duct, problematic breastfeeding, or as a result of cracked nipples which allow usually harmless skin bacteria to enter the body.
At the first signs of mastitis keep to the following protocol:
Rest as much as possible. Sleep is essential for healing, repairing and strengthening the immune system. You’re unlikely to be get-ting a full night’s sleep so take naps when-ever the baby does. If possible, ask a trusted friend or family member to take the baby for a short outing so you can rest undisturbed for a break.
Nurse as often as possible. This will be pain-ful initially but keeping the milk flowing ensures there is minimal bacterial build up. Feed from the affected side first and express the milk with a pump or by hand if you are struggling with feeding techniques.
Herbs to have to hand:
Garlic capsules or freshly minced raw garlic. Ensure capsules are NOT ‘odourless’ as these are lacking in sulphur compounds which contri-bute significantly to the therapeutic value. Garlic is a potent antimicrobial and antibiotic, it also stimulates the body’s own immune cells.
Echinacea Tincture. Take 40 drops or 2ml of Echinacea tincture diluted in a little water, 5 times per day to stimulate the immune system.
Echinacea has been found to activate a range of immune cells including neutrophils – the white bloods cells that deal with poisons and bacteria.
Elderflower, Yarrow and Peppermint tea. This herbal combination is useful for fever and flu with aches and chills. It contains antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory compounds; the yarrow acts to slow the production of milk, making it particularly useful for engorgement of the breasts and high milk production. Drink 3 cups of tea over the course of a single day to ease the pressure, but do not consume on subsequent days.
Listen to your body; if symptoms persist or worsen after 24 hours consult a health professional.
Did You Know?
Garlic’s odour is transmitted to the breast milk which has been found to increase sucking time in some infants. In Turkey, garlic is believed to improve the taste and quality of the milk.
A decrease in milk supply can occur for a number of reasons; fatigue, dehydration, stress and medications are some of the more common ones. As with mastitis, the first steps are to rest, drink and nurse. Remember that caffeine is a diuretic, encouraging the elimination of water from the body, so try to avoid this where possible. Cutting out night feeds can also reduce milk supply.
Many herbs act as galactogogues; derived from the Greek ‘galacto’ meaning milk and ‘agogos’ meaning flow. It can be a big relief for mothers who are concerned they are producing too little milk, to find that herbs can be used safely to increase milk production.
Herbs to have to hand:
Fennel seed – With a long history of safe use fennel seed can be drunk as a tea throughout the day to help increase milk supply. Fennel has the added benefit of reducing colic in babies.
Shatavari – This herb has many benefits for the female reproductive system; hormone balancing properties, a tonic for the uterus and it increases milk supply. One of the translations of the name shatavari is ‘she who has a hundred husbands’,
in part as a result of the aphrodisiac action of the plant and part due to its nourishing and rejuvenating actions which give strength and increase energy; a new baby can feel like it takes the energy of 100 husbands! Take one level teaspoon of the powder in a little warm milk twice daily. Add honey if desired.
Nettle – A wonderfully nourishing herb, ideal to help the body recover after pregnancy and sustain the nutrients needed for breastfeeding. Nettle is high in iron, calcium and folic acid and it promotes milk flow. The best way to take nettle is to buy the dried leaf and make a strong infusion; steep 2 heaped tablespoons of nettle per mug of boiling water and leave overnight to infuse. Drink 2 mugs per day.
Both nettle and shatavari can be drunk as nourishing, restorative tonics for new mothers, regardless of whether the milk supply is low.
Remember: It’s common to feel stressed and anxious when adjusting to the big life change of a tiny, completely dependant, new person joining your family. Take measures to look after yourself, so that you can be there for the little one in your life and seek support where necessary.
Not all herbs are safe to use whilst pregnant or breastfeeding. Ensure you consult a qualified practitioner if you have a health condition or are taking any medication.
The Herbal Clinic 32 King Edward Road, Swansea SA1 4LL
MEILYR JAMES BSc(Hons) DBTh DAcu AcuC Dir MGNI Registered Medical Herbalist, Iridologist & Acupuncturist
T: 01792 474356 W: herbalclinic-swansea.co.uk E: firstname.lastname@example.org